Take todays largest operating systems, Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X. Also, throw in the world’s largest Linux distribution, Ubuntu. Quickly, what do all of these systems have in common?
Need a hint? It involves design in their upcoming versions.
As the desktop as we know it continues to evolve, and mobile devices continue to have a larger share in peoples’ lives, there is a trend developing in each of the systems’ beta releases.
These systems are taking hints, if not total interface concepts, from their mobile counterparts.
Take for example, Windows 8. Not much has been seen of this future version, but if you look at what’s going on now with the new “Metro” style login, you can begin to see the direct correlation to Microsoft’s Windows Phone software.
Apple has been very outspoken about changing the design and function of their software in Mac OS 10.7 Lion. Steve Jobs has indicated that the next version of Apple’s operating system will be directly inspired by iOS. There will be gesture support (common iPhone and iPad swipes, taps, etc.), a “Launchpad Application Launcher” for all of your apps that will look just like your “home” page on your iPhone or iPad, and full support for the Mac App Store, which functions just like it’s mobile counterpart.
Even Ubuntu has taken much of its and design from its netbook/mobile edition for its next version. In a rather controversial move, Canonical decided to move Ubuntu away from the classic GNOME desktop environment and replace it with the Unity shell. GNOME is still there, just hidden underneath a different desktop shell that was taken directly from Ubuntu’s mobile version. The Unity shell features a very different design that includes a launcher along the left side, somewhat like Apple’s dock in Mac OS X. The system is fine-tuned for keyboard shortcuts, owing much of its usability to features learned while building a system for small screens.
So, what’s going on here?
Personally, I see this move as the next logical step in operating system design. At this point, operating system providers are looking for ways to make their systems faster and leaner in order to gain an edge over the competition. Once we reached Windows Vista, I’m sure many others including myself were tired of a bloated operating system.
At the same time, mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads, and Android devices have all become extremely familiar and mainstream. Since mobile devices are small and do not have the same capabilities as laptops and desktops, they needed software that was both lightweight, efficient, and easy to use.
Those three features of mobile operating systems are the same as what operating system providers are looking for to place in their own laptop and desktop systems today. Those features will be implemented in future versions of the major operating systems in order to gain better performance and a more efficient (in terms of usability) desktop experience. Such a blend is an interesting turn of events in the evolution of the modern desktop. Only one question remains — How far will such blending of mobile and traditional go?